Whisky Review: Ardbeg Galileo - The Whiskey Wash

Whisky Review: Ardbeg Galileo

Ardbeg Galileo

Ardbeg Galileo (image via Joshua St. John/The Whiskey Wash)

There are times when marketing crosses the line from mere confusion into the territory of misdirection. Luckily, this is flatly not the case with Ardbeg Galileo.

The 2012 limited release from the Islay distillers has become highly sought after in the secondary whisky market for reasons both reasonable and ridiculous. In the years since its release, the malt has taken on a near-legendary status which has as much to do with misunderstanding (or misrepresenting) of the marketing involved as it does the whisky itself. Let’s take a moment to clear the air, shall we?

What Galileo is not:

Galileo is not space whisky. This whisky has not been to space. Not one drop. Not one molecule. Not in any way, shape, or form. Sure, we could get into the realm of cosmology. In that sense, yes, Ardbeg Galileo originates from the cosmos as much as you or I. As far as I can gather, Ardbeg has not claimed this. In fact, the literature accompanying this release provides a level of detail that I would welcome in today’s rarer Ardbegs. What Ardbeg states about this dram, is that it is to “[celebrate] Ardbeg’s first ever experiment in space.” So, how would anyone get the impression that this bottle had spent months orbiting the globe?

During the days of the Space Shuttle, it cost NASA roughly an average of $10,000 to launch one pound of cargo into low Earth orbit. A 16-ounce bottle of water weighs one and four one hundredths of a pound, and would therefore have cost NASA $10,000 to shoot into orbit. In today’s post-Shuttle world, spacecraft launched by commercial enterprises such as SpaceX and Orbital Science estimate their costs per pound to run from $27,ooo to $43,180 respectively, though SpaceX claims to be able to drop costs significantly based on the cargo capacity of a Dragon rocket. What is more, Orbital Science would be a one-way ride. That would be fine for any Ardbeg enthusiasts who happen to be serving on the International Space Station, but it would serve to further complicate matters for us mere earthlings.

With this knowledge, the idea of imagining astronauts strapping into a rocket with a few cases of Ardbeg rattling around tucked under their seats becomes flatly laughable. These bottles have never been to space. The contents of these bottles have never been to space. The molecules  — which were not finished whisky, but merely terpenes — produced by Ardbeg for the 2011 experiment did not wind up in this whisky at all. The mission was launched by NanoRacks LLC in order to measure the effects of micro-gravity on these organic compounds compared to normal gravity on Earth. These molecules were slated to spend two years aboard the International Space Station. Basic math tells us that this whisky was bottled while these components were still in orbit.

Ardbeg Galileo is simply a limited release from the distillery marketed to coincide with a very cool scientific achievement. That is all. In order to clarify the confusion regarding mission specifics, I fearlessly delved deeply into that most mysterious and elusive font of knowledge: the box the whisky came in. Seriously. It’s all there. Ardbeg took the time to write it out and print it on the box. The least we can do is take a moment to read it.

Just the facts:

Ardbeg Galileo comes with a vintage date, stating the whisky was distilled in the year 1999. In addition, the labeling confirms the contents to have been bottled in the year 2012. Though not an explicit age statement, these dates fit the bill for transparency when it comes to the age of the spirit involved. This is Ardbeg, and as such the contents of the bottle are a heavily peated single malt. Additionally, the whisky was aged in standard ex-bourbon barrels and much less common Sicilian ex-Marsala casks. The finished product weighs in at a robust 49% alcohol by volume (98 proof) prior to being bottled and subsequently not shot into space.

In the 2013 World Whiskies Awards, Galileo took top prizes for Best Islay Single Malt and World’s Best Single Malt Whisky. Subjective, to be sure, but this is high praise nonetheless.

Tasting Notes: Ardbeg Galileo

Vital Stats: 49% ABV (98 proof), distilled in 1999, bottled in 2012, 100% malted barley, long since discontinued but available in secondary markets ranging from $250 to $500 per 750 ml.

Appearance: Somewhat darker than standard Ardbeg. Notes of golden straw with additional amber and reddish tones. Quick legs.

Nose: Peat and smoke, as expected with an additional over-ripened fruitiness — black plums, red grapes — and solid charred oak presence. Very intriguing nose. Takes on different personas as it opens up. Dark, leafy spice notes arrive late in the mix, punctuating the fruit.

Palate: Sweet and savory, salty and spicy, yet not overpowering in any of these attributes. Oven-dried seaweed chips with salt, fresh vanilla creme brûlée, hint of pipe tobacco. With regards to the finish, the burn is outstanding. Worthy of the theme. Long and intense, yet focused and nuanced. A lesser dram would explode all over the launchpad. This one slips the surly bounds of earth. A greatest hits medley flows over the finish with additional sweetness and salt propelled by signature Ardbeg smoke.

Final Thoughts:

Once all the confusion and marketing is stripped away, this is fantastic whisky. More than that, this is an exceptionally fine whisky and one of the best Ardbegs I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. Why is this a bad thing? Well, because this is a discontinued limited edition from Ardbeg, you will be unlikely to encounter a bottle today without an outrageous markup in the secondary market. If you should find yourself in a position to acquire your own bottle at a price you deem reasonable, I highly doubt you will regret doing so.

As a collector’s item it is an interesting oddity given the mystique around it. As a sipper, however, this is an absolute treasure.


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